Healthy employees mean a healthy business.

“You are what you eat” is more than an old adage — just look at our obesity epidemic in the United States. Evidently we are French fries, pizza and ice cream. Our government issues a challenge, our employers provide work site programs and our communities offer free screenings. But, at the end of the day, it comes down to you and me. We alone affect how much energy we will have for the day ahead. We alone deliver the products and services that will drive our businesses. We together need to make our nutrition and exercise a priority because it WILL affect our future — the health of ourselves, our families and our economy.

So, where do we begin? According to the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion “people regularly make decisions about food and physical activity in a variety of community settings such as … workplaces. [This setting plays] an integral role in affecting individuals’ and families’ food and physical activity choices …”

Let’s start there, the workplace, by interviewing Shelly Wegman, MS, RD, LDN who is a registered dietician with Rex Wellness in Raleigh, NC.


Beverly: Let’s start with a little background. I’ve got MyPlate in front of me and I’m ready to get started, but not every fruit and vegetable, meat and grain are created equal. From carb this to protein that, from unsaturated fat this to sodium that it’s easy to become overwhelmed. How do we choose more wisely?

Shelly: Your nutritional journey is a two-step process. And, if possible, leverages the services of a nutritionist as your guide. Many health plans and employers offer free or reduced-cost wellness programs to assist employees make better choices. And, it is always a good idea to check in with your primary care physician to ensure your specific needs are met.

  • Step One: You can start by learning the MyPlate categories (e.g., vegetable, fruit) to improve the variety and balance of your food choices. Give yourself time to build new food choice habits before you move to Step Two.
  • Step Two: Whereas in Step One you learned to “reach for a vegetable”, in Step Two you want to focus on “which vegetable” specifically aligns with your nutritional requirements. Some individuals find online resources and apps such as CalorieKing, MyFitnessPal, FitDay, Livestrong or Shopwell and Fooducate useful as a complement to their nutritional consult helping them make informed choices and track nutritional goals (e.g., weight loss).

B: Everyone’s morning is packed getting kids, pets and oneself to school, work and appointments. It’s not surprising that breakfast can get left at the curb. What do you recommend for those of us who can’t fit a traditional breakfast in the morning sprint?

S: Breakfast is the meal that gives your body a “jump start” on the day. A poor breakfast, or no breakfast at all, will adversely affect your energy level and ability to concentrate for the rest of the day.

Breakfast needs to fuel the body and the brain so pick something from 2 or 3 of the food groups on “MyPlate.” Pick one item from the meat/protein group and then a fruit, grain, or maybe a dairy choice will give you a good mix of nutrients. You’ve got options such as:

  • A piece of fruit and low fat cheese
  • A mini whole grain bagel with a veggie sausage patty
  • An egg and toast or fruit
  • A sandwich on whole grain bread (e.g., turkey, PB&J)
  • A small protein shake
  • A cup of Greek yogurt

This article may be helpful as well:

B: In our office, we typically eat lunch together. It’s a great time to re-energize. Many of us bring in leftovers. What do you recommend?

S: Planning your meals and packaging leftovers for the office are great strategies to improve your diet. Take a look at your plate … do you have something from the vegetable group and something from the protein group? How about a grain or fruit? Pick foods from 3 or 4 of the food groups. Fill up half of your plate with fruits/vegetables and then add the other food groups to round out your meal.

  • Example: Chicken (protein), brown rice (grain), green beans topped with cheese (vegetable, dairy) and apple (fruit).
  • Example: Salad (vegetable) with black beans (protein), corn (vegetable) and cheese (dairy) with fresh melon (fruit) on the side.

These strategies and resources are recommended as well:

  • The buddy system: If you regularly eat with the same group of friends, consider sharing lunch preparation. Each person takes a day of the week to cook for his/her lunch-time buddies. This is a great way to eat well together, which starts by planning the menu.
  • You can also have special days like “salad or sandwich day” where everyone brings different foods from all the food groups and you can create salads or sandwiches from the choices.
  • And, check out or for some recipe ideas.

B: If leftovers aren’t an option, what do you recommend when eating fast casual for lunch?

S: If you’re going to eat out then try this approach:

  • Evaluate the menu online to make an informed decision.
  • Order online or call in your order to limit the pressure to “super size” when the person at the register offers so sweetly to assist.
  • Send one person to pick up food for a group as another way to only return with what was ordered.

And, be careful because serving sizes are often hidden:

  • A sandwich can be quick and easy, but the bread is often more than two servings. Consider re-making your sandwich to fit on just half of the bread … you can do it! Or, use healthier bread choices such as a sandwich round or low carb wrap.
  • And, that friendly bagel is the equivalent of about four slices of “regular” bread. If you eat a bagel, then be sure to make adjustments in other meals that day.

But, French fries are yummy …

  • When evaluating your menu options remember to fill “MyPlate.” Start with the protein, then vegetables and then continue around your plate with fruit, grains and dairy. If you really want French fries then order the small size and get a salad with some grilled chicken or fish and light dressing on the side. Similarly, if you really want a piece of fried chicken then get the smaller order and skip the biscuit, add in extra green beans or collards.

I should go for the soup and salad, right …

  • Greens are low in calories, but what you add to it may surprise you. For example, a typical Caesar salad with grilled chicken can be close to 800-1000 calories.
  • Consider ordering half portions. Or ask for a “to go box,” split the salad in half and you’ll have lunch for tomorrow as well. Most importantly, use your own dressing to control the portion and the contents.
  • And, if you enjoy soup, go for the broth-based options.

Fast food reviews that might be helpful:

B: Some days are longer than others, what healthy snacks do you recommend we each keep within reach?

S: Good snack options include:

  • Reduced fat cottage cheese and fruit
  • Greek yogurt
  • Portion-controlled serving of nuts
  • A granola bar with less than 12g of sugar
  • Fruit
  • Low fat string cheese
  • Low fat popcorn (and you’ll quickly learn who else is working late)

Before snacking, ask yourself if you are really hungry or eating “because it’s there.” And, be careful that you are not using food as a distraction from work. Additionally, make sure you stay hydrated. People often confuse thirst with hunger and tend to not drink enough during the day because they either forget or they don’t want to have to interrupt their work to use the restroom.

B: Whereas we try to avoid consuming too much caffeine, sometimes you need a little kick. What foods and drinks provide the most natural form of energy?

S: Caffeine in moderation should be fine for most people. Dehydration can make you feel fatigued as can sitting for too long. I recommend lots of water and getting up every hour to move around. Take a few minutes to get outside or run up some stairs or stretch. If you need a little energy then go for fruit, small servings of nuts, a small piece of dark chocolate, or maybe some herbal tea. Energy comes from calories though some of the “energy drinks” on the market use a mix of B-vitamins to give people a boost. If possible, stick to the energy foods and water that won’t create a sugar jolt.

Leading employers have recognized that worksite health programs can have a positive impact on the health of their employees and their business. But, according to the MetLife Study of Global Health and Wellness, the savviest of them all recognize that successful programs must live in “an overall culture of health.”

Does your employer have a wellness program? Have you given it a try? How does your company use its “culture of health” to benefit its brand leading to improved employee retention and customer acquisition? Please feel free to share your ideas and resources here.

We truly appreciate Shelly’s expert guidance. Learn more about Rex Wellness nutrition services and how to find a nutritionist in your community.